THE COST OF LIBRARIES
I’ve always been a sucker for libraries. My first summer memories are of watching a librarian move my paper airplane across the country reflecting the number of books I took out and returned read. Thanks to my mother’s willingness to take me to the library, my plane moved every day! During my school years, I checked out a book in the morning to read during the day and then read a different book each night. I give a lot of credit to my library time and the guidance librarians gave me with my later achievements as a student, lawyer, judge, and writer.
Unfortunately, “It’s the economy…” “Curriculum cuts….” “Arts and music, but athletics will be okay” are comments being heard all over the country. School systems have long been faced with difficult choices when forced to slash programs to produce balanced budgets. Approximately eight years ago, Jackson, Michigan’s Parkside Middle School, which previously was Parkside High School, cut funding for library acquisitions and chose to not replace the retiring long-time school librarian. Until her health declined, she continued coming to “work” for the children. Despite documented lowering proficiency scores in reading, writing, social studies, and science, the school library became an academically unused shell.
In 2011, fifteen concerned parents, staff, and community members, led by Heather Albee-Scott, the mother of a sixth grader, decided to bring the Parkside library back.
With space requiring rewiring and renovation, no money, boxes containing the presently owned 1000 books for 2000 students, and a few outdated computers, the Parkside Media Center group recognizedits goal was ambitious, but they also realized their efforts were an investment in their children and the future of their community.
In October 2011, I agreed to do two books signings at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, Michigan for Maze in Blue, my debut mystery set on the University of Michigan in the 1970’s. As part of the PR for the signings, I was asked to do a ‘local girl succeeds’ interview for the Jackson Citizen Patriot and Mlive.com. The reporter, Leanne Smith, and I agreed to meet at Parkside so we could get some pictures in the school. I hadn’t been back to Parkside in almost forty years. When I pulled up, the first thing I noticed was the empty parking lot – middle school students don’t drive. The eagle statue in front of the school also seemed smaller, but the front office, except for the dates on the papers posted on the yellow walls, was unchanged. It was a little eerie though when the assistant principal turned out to be a woman who had been in my sister’s class. The interview was one of the high points of my trip, but I left the school with a sense of loss when I learned why students were lounging in the library space.
After reading the Maze in Blue interview, Ann Holt, a member of the Parkside Media Center committee, e-mailed me the link to an article explaining what the PMC committee is trying to do. Cake sales, small grants, and the school board committing $80,000 from the $3.9 million it saved on projects from a 2009 bond issue have resulted in the raising of almost 1/5 of the money needed to fully bring the media center online, but the big fund-raising and donation-in-kind push efforts are scheduled for 2012/2013. I volunteered to help.
On October 6, 2012, almost a year to the date I was at Parkside, the Jackson District Library, Nicola’s Books, PMC and I are joining together for an author evening at Parkside that will consist of an author talk, signed copy of Maze in Blue, and hors d’oeuvres for the purchase of a $35 ticket. All proceeds from the tax-deductible ticket purchase will go directly to the Parkside Media Center Project. Provision has been made for those who can’t attend, but contribute at least $40 through this event via http://parksidemediacenterproject.com/donate/ to receive a signed copy of Maze in Blue. Other fundraisers and solicitations to alumni and people who care about librariesfor grants, computers, software, and young adult books are planned throughout the next two years.
In the meantime, according to Albee-Scott, that isn’t a reason to wait to reopen the library. This summer, students worked under the guidance of Parkside graduate and Jackson District Librarian Calvin Battles to catalog and shelve the present collection. The recently accepted 2012-2013 school budget calls for a partnership with the Jackson District Library to fund a part-time librarian position. When school resumes, the library will be waiting for students and faculty members.
The closing of the library was a step backward, but the vision of the committee to have a fully stocked and staffed media center offers opportunity for the future. Not only will it be another tool for Parkside to use in improving its proficiency; it will help provide an educated workforce for community growth. As Walter Cronkite, the news commentator stated, “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” As readers and writers, the libraries need us and we need them.
I asked Heather where they could mail books if anyone wanted to do so. She replied:
“If they want to donate books they can email us at email@example.com - we are thrilled to take books!”
Judge, author, litigator, wife, step-mom, mother of twins, civic volunteer, Yankee, University of Michigan graduate, and transplanted Southerner are all words used to describe Debra H. Goldstein. She is the author of several award winning fiction and non-fiction pieces including "Legal Magic," "Malicious Mischief," "Grandma's Garden," "The Rabbi's Wife Stayed Home," "Maybe I Should Hug You," and "An Open Line." Her debut novel, Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan's campus in the 1970's, was published in 2011. Her website is www.DebraHGoldstein.com, and blog, "It's Not Always A Mystery," can be found at http://DebraHGoldstein.wordpress.com.